Top image: Alexander McQueen FW07
Although Halloween provides us with an excuse to raid pound shops in the quest for witches’ hats and fake blood, entertaining the darker recesses of our minds, in the world of fashion, witchcraft and the occult has long held a trendy cachet that transcends the festivals seasonal appeal. From Clio Peppiatt’s recent tarot-inspired collection, to the satin pink witches’ hats seen in Ryan Lo’s latest show, the catwalk has become a paean to the occult; a trend that dovetails with the #MeToo movement and serves as an example of women and designers harnessing feminine power to ward off the bubbling cauldron of contemporary politics.
In the current hyper-masculinised climate of Donald Trumps and Brett Kavanaughs, 21st century fashion’s obsession with tarot, astrology and witchcraft recalls the witch trials taking place across Europe in the early modern period, when more than 40,000 women were tortured and executed. We may have progressed since the times of burning at the stake, but women are still routinely shamed and humiliated, and fashion’s witchy bent can be seen as a means of reclaiming power. No longer depicted as a bestial wart-covered hag, the 21st century witch is seductive and brazenly bewitching. Here, we chart the defining moments of the occult and mysticism on the runway…
Alexander McQueen FW07
Paganism and the occult was a recurring theme in the collections of Alexander McQueen, whose mother had traced their family tree back to one of the victims executed in the Salem witch trials of 1692. For his FW07 show, titled ‘In Memory of Elizabeth Howe, Salem 1692’, McQueen traced a blood red pentagram inside a black sand circle on the floor of the catwalk, upon which models walked, donning moulded leather corset dresses with nipped-in waists and sporting bold blue eye makeup – much like the raven-haired vixen of Anna Biller’s 2016 film The Love Witch.
For her debut Dior collection, Maria Grazia Chiuri took inspiration from Christian Dior himself, a famously superstitious man who was fascinated with astrology and had a habit of reading tarot cards before he presented his collections. By extension, tarot card symbols and constellations were embroidered in shimmering thread onto delicate tulle skirts and voile dresses, while jumpers were sprinkled with cosmic symbols too.
Luella Bartley FW08
For her FW08 collection, Luella Bartley gave us the archetypal witch – replete with the trappings of black lipstick and the conical witch’s hat, but minus the prosthetic noses and broomsticks. Drawing inspiration from Britt Ekland in the 1970s film The Wicker Man, as well as the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle, Cornwall where she lives, Bartley opened the collection with a model wearing a pointy felt witch’s hat over crazily crimped hair, a puff-sleeved peasant blouse layered underneath a short black dress – finished with pumpkin-orange tights.
Not one to make clothes for wallflowers, Ashish is best known for his love of sequins and slogans. For his SS18 collection, he conjured up a coven of disco witches – models wore bedazzled dresses, some speckled with sparkly stars and pentagrams and others splashed with slogans like ‘Witch’ and ‘Good Mourning’. The show was meant to be a reflection of the “dark times” in which we live, but the sparkle and disco balls symbolised his hope for light ahead.
Gareth Pugh FW13
Gareth Pugh’s penchant for the macabre was patently exhibited in his otherworldly FW13 collection, where models floated down the catwalk like ghosts wearing floor-length ethereal dresses and whiter-than-white make-up, their faces veiled with strands of hair like cobwebs. His inspiration came from a Ukranian tribe of women known as the ‘Asgarda’ – a group of around 150 women of varying ages residing in the Carpathian Mountains, who seek complete autonomy from men.
Clio Peppiatt SS18
Inspired by the hyper-saturated 2016 feminist-horror film The Love Witch, Clio Peppiatt, whose work explore themes of playful, subversive femininity, produced a collection that was littered with tarot imagery – from tarot cards hand-drawn by herself, to Adam and Eve motifs, and a pair of skeletons locked in an embrace on the back of a midnight blue coat.
Preen by Thornton Bregazzi SS17
For their SS17 collection, the Preen designer duo Thea Bregazzi and Justin Thornton drew liberally from the history of their native Isle of Man, an island off the northern coast of England known as a hotbed of witchcraft and occultism. Models were turned into white witches, with petals strewn across their faces as well as the runway, their hair plaited into messy braids, giving the show a soupçon of Glastonbury chic too. The pentagram motif was also woven with floral embroidery and stamped onto a white dress, and it resurfaced in the form of silver pentagram earrings and pins fixed to lapels.
Ryan Lo SS19
A self-confessed romantic, Ryan Lo’s fantastical SS19 collection had all the elements of a classic fairy-tale: it opened with a model-turned-witch, who wore an over-sized red witch’s hat created by Milliner-extraordinaire Stephen Jones and held a gilded broomstick, and closed with a princess wearing a dress trimmed with ostrich plumage, arm in arm with a knight in literal shining armour, ending on a hopeful happy-ever-after note.